In an attempt to give balance to my post, Orchestras are Ancient, Crumbly Ruins, I have decided to take up a challenge by one reader:
“Instead of focusing on all the negatives, write a post that actually provides some thoughts on how to fix problems that orchestras face.”
—Trumpet Journey Comment
Here are some of my ideas on how to innovate successfully for today’s orchestras:
- Because each community is different, the orchestra must respond to its community’s identity and ideals. Engaging local composers, conductors, soloists, community leaders, and radio stations helps to form a relationship between the orchestra and the people it’s serving. Do the members and leaders of the orchestra represent the demographics of the community?
(Gustavo Dudamel’s appointment as director of the L. A. Philharmonic made sense in many ways. One of those was because his hispanic heritage connects him with the Los Angeles people, 50% of which is hispanic.) What are big issues for the region? Is it homelessness? Then, the orchestra could help raise awareness and funds for this issue. Musicians, conductor and administrative staff could frequently volunteer at the local shelters and soup kitchens. Is the community decentralized?
The Memphis Symphony Orchestra provides a good model for the orchestra reaching out to the community’s needs with its community engagement forums, and support of a declining part of the city, nursing homes, hosting drum circles, and educational programs. Then the orchestra could consider performing at more than one hall in order to meet the audience where it is.
- The orchestra as a cultural focal point can perform in public areas. Do the musicians give lecture recitals at schools, churches, hospitals, retirement homes and government buildings? Are there photos of the musicians in the hall and in other buildings of the community? Do people know the names and personalities of some of the musicians? Can the members of the orchestra visit school music programs on a regular basis? Does the orchestra engage students and leaders on the stage regularly (students playing along side musicians, community leaders “conducting” easy pieces)? The hall itself can be a sight-seeing destination if it displays artwork and other artifacts from the community.
- The musicians of the orchestra should be innovatively configured for smaller ensembles to reach the community at different levels of impact. The big orchestra for large concerts. Two chamber orchestras for two different venues. Medium sized groups (octets, brass ensembles, wind serenades) and small groups (quintets, quartets, trios and solo recitals) for small venues. Are there musicians in the orchestra that can perform in other genres? The Cleveland Orchestra at times splits into two groups in order to perform in multiple residencies around the world.
- Innovative programming. Stretching the boundaries of traditional programming is key to attracting interest and new audiences. In addition, a permanent position for a composer/arranger should be considered to tailor the orchestra’s music to the community. Have leaders from other genres of music take part in the programming and leading of the orchestra.
De-centralization of the administration and decision making of the orchestra can make the orchestra more innovative. De-centralization can work its way down to the section level. Each person in the orchestra can potentially come up with a great idea. When those ideas occur, give ownership to the ideas, when possible, to the musicians.
Regular meetings at different levels with open door policy encourages honest and innovative decision making. Some successful orchestras are completely self-governing like the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston. Other successful orchestras are more traditionally structured, but embrace a work environment in which all the employees are empowered, like the Los Angeles Philharmonic under CEO Deborah Borda.
- If the orchestra needs a new hall, an architect should be engaged with a vision of the community (a great example would be Frank Gehry’s Disney Hall, which Gehry called, “the living room for the people.”